Category: Europe

Quinta do Tedo, Folgosa

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Quinta do Tedo rests on the converging point of the river Tedo and the river Douro; a picturesque little winery owned by Vincent Bouchard. Bouchard, some might recognise, as in Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy.

Quinta do Tedo, Douro Valley

While the owner might be French, the winemaking is very much traditional. The grapes produced on the 14 hectare estate, entirely red and harvested with the help of horses, are foot trodden and fermented in the lagare before resting and being fortified in concrete tanks.

Wines, Quinta do Tedo, Douro Valley

We tried a small selection of their dry wines and ports starting with the Reserva 2010, a reserved wine with violet overtones, dull fruit, of blackcurrant and sour cherry, and grainy tannins. The Grande Reserva Savedra 2009 was comparatively warmer in its fruits, of cherry and black plum, with considerably more spice.

We also tried a small selection of their ports.

The Fine Tawny, with its hint of sugary caramel and boiled sweets, was a smooth drinking tipple with nice acidity. The Late Bottled Vintage 2007 was floral with intense notes of blackcurrant, prunes and grainy tannins.

On the vintage front, the Vintage 2003 had a relatively closed nose but showed a nice balance of sweetness and acidity as well as lots of prune and fig and a slight hint of rose. The final wine, a Vintage 2007, had a much more fruity nose, showing the same floral quality as well as prunes and a touch of mint tea leaf herbaceousness.

www.quintadotedo.com

Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione tastings 2014, Florence

This time last year I was in Florence for the launch of the new Chianti Classico classification, the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. It was part of the Anteprima di Toscana where several other appellations were also celebrated. As the wines are becoming more widely available, and indeed starting to be ready to drink (albeit only a small handful), I thought I would put down a few thoughts.

Black rooster, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

A short note on Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is a Tuscan appellation situated within the wider region of Chianti. It’s worth clarifying that all Chianti Classico wines can also be classified as Chianti (though the former generally commands a higher price) but not all Chianti wines are Chianti Classico. There are also other Chianti sub-regions, falling under Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli, and Rùfina, which are separate and distinct from Chianti Classico.

 

Until last year, there were two Chianti Classico appellations – Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, both requiring at least 80% Sangiovese grapes and a maximum of 20% Canaiolo grapes in the final blend. It’s only since 1995 that 100% Sangiovese-based wines could be classed as Chianti Classico. And in the interest of quality, and style, Chianti Classico wines cannot be released until the 1st of October of the year following the harvest, while Chianti Classico Riserva must be aged for at least 24 months, including at least three months in bottle, prior to release.

The (newish) Gran Selezione

On 17th of February 2014, a new tier in the Chianti Classico appellation was announced – the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione press conference, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

This new appellation builds on the Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva appellations but with additional quality requirements. In particular, the grapes used for the wines must come from the estate and ageing must be at least 30 months, with three of those in bottle. In 2014, 34 wines were unveiled in Florence, some with availability of just a few hundred bottles and others with hundreds of thousands.

An even better Chianti Classico?

Needless to say, the wines unveiled at the launch last year came from some of the region’s best wineries though whether they are better wines for it is another question.

Unveiling Gran Selezione, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

At the time, a few of the producers I spoke to weren’t overly enthusiastic about the new appellation. Applying for Gran Selezione and marketing it would cost more money but the potential gains were yet to be seen. That said, many did welcome the additional recognition for quality and some of the producers were already making wines under the requirements prior to its introduction. Of course, you can be sure that the Gran Selezione will come with a higher price tag.

For consumers, there’s always the worry that, while trying to achieve a defined terroir style, the wines are being funnelled down the same route to produce basically the same wines. The result might be very “correct” wines but, potentially, ultimately uninteresting. Meanwhile, the results remains to be seen.

Comestible interlude at Chianti Classico tasting:

Quinta do Portal, Celeirós

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

The winery at Quinta do Portal is impressively large (it’s capable of producing some 1.2 million bottles of wine a year) considering that the estate itself is only around 15 hectares. But that’s because the family owned estate is also part of the group that owns Quinta do Confradeiro, Quinta dos Muros and Quinta da Abelheira. Between all those Quintas, the area under vine is more like 105 hectares.

Winery, Quinta do Portal, Douro Valley

The man in charge of creating all those wines is Paulo Coutinho, who has been at Quinta do Portal for more than 20 years. You get the sense that he is very self-assured as he claims to be able to make any wine that he wants to.

The considerable creative flexibility that he’s been afforded has allowed him to experiment with wines that you probably won’t find on many other estates in the Douro Valley like a sparkling rosé. That rosé, incidentally, was the Super Reserva Rosé Espumante do Douro 2008, which, while a little too tart on the palate, had a nice strawberry nose with a slightly savoury finish. It’s a one-off, however.

Moscatel is the other grape that Coutinho liked to play with. We tried a Moscatel Galego Branco 2013, a slightly tart and savoury wine that’s otherwise classic in the moscatel category. Quinta do Portal also had a Colheita rosé, the Colheita Douro Rosé 2013, which was fresh, aromatic and crisp with plenty of strawberry notes and a very dry finish.

The aforementioned three “fun wines” were what Coutinho later introduced into cocktails. In fact, he was one of the strongest advocates for wine cocktails that we met on the trip.

Wines, Quinta do Portal, Douro Valley

To more serious wines, we started with a Douro Branco 2006, a well rounded wine with notes of honey, melon, lychee and a fresh, creamy finish.

Switching to one of the few sweet wines (that’s not port) in the Douro Valley, we tried the Late Harvest 2009 – honeyed nose, white fruits and a hint of Botrytis on the finish. A second sweet wine, which we tried later, was the Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004, a floral but nutty and raisined wine that’s slightly oxidised.

With the reds, we started with a Grande Reserva 2007, a fresh, violet-forward wine that’s backed with blackcurrant and a little taste of iron. The still-evolving Touriga Nacional 2001 had a hint of mushroom and leathery overtones though there was still plenty of fruit.

Finally, finishing with a small round of port, we started with a 20 year old tawny. It felt a little one-dimensional but had good acidity to counter the sweetness. The 1999 vintage port, meanwhile, had developed with mushroom notes, a hint of chocolate and a smoky savouriness.

www.quintadoportal.com

Quinta de São José, Ervedosa do Douro

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Barrels, Quinta de Sao José, Douro Valley

Quinta de São José, a small, family run estate of just 10 hectares, lies in the heart of the Douro Valley, a short boat ride up from Pinhão. Although accessible by road, it’s much easier to get to the Quinta from the river.

Most of the wines produced at the estate are dry Douro wines but there’s also a small amount of port produced owing to the family heritage – João Brito e Cunha, owner and winemaker, is a direct descendant of Dona Antónia Ferreira, the doyenne of port.

While winemaking is the core business, they’re also beginning to develop a tourism aspect with vineyard tours and accommodation. At the top of the hill, where they do all the lab work, the view across the valley is truly spectacular.

We tasted through the small selection of wines (in a good year, they would make four reds, including reserves, two whites and one port) starting with the Flor de S José Branco 2013. It opened with a slight sulphur to the nose but had a light and refreshing palate of pear and citrus.

It’s relatively rare for a Quinta to produce a single varietal wine in the Douro Valley but S. José had a Touriga Nacional 2011. It’s the first vintage of this wine and is a vibrant red, tinged with purple, showing a smoky, cedar top note followed by cherry, blackberry, rose and a little vanilla on the finish. That vanilla was also obvious in their Reserva Douro Tinto 2011 which showed blackberry and herbaceousness of tomato vines, though it was also ripe with violet and rose.

We also tasted their vintage ports starting with the Single Quinta Vintage 2009, a fruity, approachable port, rich with cherry and obvious residual sweetness. The younger Single Quinta Vintage 2012, a tank sample, was fruity but still closed and a little woody with a much drier finish.

www.quintasjose.com

Quinta de la Rosa, Pinhão

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Quinta de la Rosa, an impressive and imposing estate on the edge of the Douro river, was purchased as a Christening gift for Claire Bergqvist 1906. Actually, it would be more correct to say that, while the winery is sizeable (to include the family home, visitor centre and B&B accommodation), the estate itself has only 55 hectares under vine.

Logo, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Valley

In the early days, all of the grapes produced on the estate were sold to large port producers such as Sandeman. Today, under the management of Claire’s grand daughter Sophie Bergqvist, the estate produces around 80% wine and 20% port from their grapes. And aside from the tourism aspects (they run winery tours as well as hosting visitors), they also produce olive oil.

The family owned estate is very much traditional in its wine production. Foot treading in the concrete lagares is still used for its ports, followed by ageing in French oak barrels. And there are some really excellent wines at the end of it.

After the winery visit, we had a taste of some of their core products at the small visitor centre.

Ports, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Valley

We started with the Quinta de la Rosa Douro Tinto 2010. It was an intense red wine with a smoky, pungent nose, spicy palate and plenty of red fruit. Alongside grippy tannins, there was also blackberry, chocolate and a certain plumminess. The second wine, a joint venture between Quinta de la Rosa and its winemaker, Jorge Moreira, was the Passagem Reserva 2010, made at Quinta das Bandeiras. This, a more tart wine, was reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon and would definitely be interesting with some age. Right now, however, it’s holding on to a woody herbaceousness.

The ports in this basic tasting started with a 10 year old tawny. Alongside that oxidative character, there were lots of raisins and a little caramel and nut, making a smooth and elegant port with nice acidity and balance. Next came the Finest Reserve, a rich, ruby coloured port with lots of sweetness, fruit and acidity as well as a hint of liquorice. Finally, we tried the Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) 2010 which was only bottled two months prior to tasting. Beginning with a lightly floral nose, it showed delicate and complex nuances amongst the fine tannins. But, while there was plenty of fruit, there was perhaps not quite enough acidity for balance.

Over lunch, we had a rather more extended tasting.

For this, we started with a dry, white Douro wine, the Quinta de la Rosa Douro Branco 2013. Crisp and aromatic, it had notes of apple and lemony citrus. The other dry wine we tried, the Quinta de la Rosa Reserva Douro Tinto 2010, was where violets came out with blackberry and plummy fruit.

Moving back on to the port, we tried an older 20 year old tawny. Showing more caramel and dried fruits, there was also a hint of Turkish Delight about it.

Given the quality of the dry red wines, I think the vintage ports are really where Quinta de la Rosa has its strength and we tried two vintages. The Vintage 2011 was still very youthful (there was detectable tea leaf bitterness) with a floral nose in a decidedly sweet and fruity style. I actually acquired a bottle a few months later, which I’m intending to cellar for a good ten years. The Vintage 2000, visibly more aged, had caramel, prune, toffee and chocolate notes, backed by great acidity.

www.quintadelarosa.com

Graham’s Port, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Symington Family Estates, which produces Graham’s (as well as Cockburn’s, Dow’s and Warre’s), have been port producers since 1882. Still family owned, they are the single largest vineyard owner in the Douro Valley, with over 1,000 hectares under vine. Not all of those grapes are for port of course as they also produce a number of dry wines under the Douro appellation.

Graham's, Oporto

Graham’s itself was actually established in 1820 by William and John Graham. Having already established a reputation for quality, it was acquired by the Symington family in 1970.

The current Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, inaugurated in 1890, had been refreshed fairly recently with a spacious museum-style visitor centre. In fact, the new wood smell was still in the air when we visited. And with freshly painted blanched walls and strong black lettering, the Graham’s brand image is clear. A second visitor’s centre is said to be opening in Pinhão later this year and will be the brand’s first inside the Douro Valley. But the old lodge is still, and will probably always be, where all of the Graham’s tawny ports are kept in barrels for ageing.

At the Lodge, there’s also a great restaurant called Vinum but it was at one of the bars that we had a tasting of some of the wines and ports from the Symington portfolio.

Ports, Graham's, Oporto

We started with the Altano Douro Branco 2012, a dry, white Douro Valley wine with a peppery nose which opens up to crisp apple, grapefruit and citrus notes.

Next came two dry red Douro wines. The Altano Douro Tinto Reserva 2010 still had a young, purplish tinge with notes of violets and herbaceous blackcurrant. An elegant but reserved wine. The Post Scriptum de Chryseia 2010, made with the Prats family, had an almost minty freshness with fine tannins and plenty of cherries coming through.

Moving on to the ports, we started with the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port which was a blend of young vintages, bottled and ready to drink. Supposedly an every day port for the vintage drinker, it was very approachable and fruity with good acidity.

The Quinta dos Malvedos 2001, a vintage port, had complex notes of prunes, figs, eucalyptus and chocolate, and perhaps even a hint of cigar and mushroom.

The collection of tawny ports, chilled to 12°C, was the real Graham’s part of the tasting.

Going up in age, we started with the Graham’s 20 year old tawny, a rich and delicious fortified wine with complexity of dried figs, dried apricots, nutty caramel and prunes. The Graham’s 30 year old tawny, a more “sessionable” port if you will, had less of the nutty character and more concentration of fruit, complete with a luscious caramel finish. The Graham’s 40 year old tawny showed considerably more viscosity and displayed intense dried fruits alongside the acidity, slight hint of cigar and a sort of leafy bitterness.

Finishing the tasting was a fantastic Graham’s 1969 Single Harvest tawny (also known as a Colheita), which had more intense oxidative notes showing through alongside macadamia and almond from the nut angle and fig and prune from the fruit. But there was still plenty of acidity to challenge that sweetness.

www.grahams-port.com

Appellations and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP)

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

The Douro Valley has been demarcated as a wine region since 1756. In fact, it’s one of the earliest demarcated wine regions in the world. Originally, this was accomplished with rudimentary stone pillars, one of which can still be seen in the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto, or IVDP.

Located in the centre of Oporto, one of the IVDP’s main roles is to certify the port and Douro wines for DOP status (the Portuguese appellation system). A task it’s had since 1933.

Lab, IVDP, Oporto

There are some 130 people who work for the IVDP, not all of them are tasters of course. Some work in the lab where the wines are tested for, well, anything that shouldn’t be there, to ensure that chemically, the wines are up to scratch. The tasters, meanwhile, taste a maximum of 20 wines a day and declare their sensory suitability. Incidentally not all of the tasters have formal qualifications, e.g. from the WSET, but they apparently go through four months of training (in tasting as well as being tested for consistency) before being officially approved on to the tasting panel.

It’s worth talking about because what it really means to have an appellation status isn’t always clear. I alluded to this in the main post for Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley. The appellation system varies from region to region and country to country, and arguably doesn’t always result in great wines; terroir or no terroir.

In the Douro Valley, the port and dry Douro wines must be made from grapes sourced within the demarcated region, as for any other appellation, and the resulting wines also have to be tasted and tested at the IVDP before being allowed to be exported. As a consumer, you can actually take a guided tour at the IVDP.

It’s not a fool-proof system but I think through this two-stage process, ultimately, better wines will be made. Albeit ones that fit snugly into the IVDP’s idea of port and Douro wines.

Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley

Now that we are in December, I think it’s safe to say that we are in the thick of winter, which of course makes it the perfect time to talk about port and Douro wines.

Tribuary, Douro Valley, Portugal

I visited the Douro Valley way back in sunny June when temperatures had already scaled the 30s. Degree C, that is. I think there was talk of it being so hot that it’s essentially nine months of hell, and we haven’t even begun talking about working on the region’s famously steep slopes.

Port really needs no introduction to the English market, especially given English merchant’s heavy involvement in creating this fortified wine. Dry Douro wines, like the lesser known cousin, needs a little more help.

The easiest way of describing these is that they are the unfortified version of port, which they are in many respects. After all, they are both made in the Douro Valley and from almost the same sets of indigenous Portuguese grapes. And the most obvious similarity can be drawn between the red Douro wines and vintage ports, especially at youth. The Douro Valley has some great dry, white wines too but there are far more differences between the dry, white Douro wines and the white ports.

Quintas along the river, Douro Valley, Portugal

The dry, red Douro wines have an intensity of fruit and colour that’s incredibly distinctive and appealing to those who like powerful wines with more than a little wood spice. Vintage ports, meanwhile, fortified and aged in giant barrels with little contact with oxygen, retains much of their fruit but with the added touch of sweetness and of course alcohol. Tasting the two side by side, the connection is immediately obvious.

The IVDP’s website is a great resource for learning about how these wines are made: www.ivdp.pt

Innovation in the Douro Valley

I think what surprised me the most, apart from discovering some incredibly nice wines, is how open to change this very traditional part of the world is. Sure, the slopes remain steep, the sun is just as intense and some Quintas still foot-tread the grapes in the lagares (the shallow, concrete tanks used for foot treading) but the way that port is produced and served is always open to innovation. Pink ports, for example, only arrived on the scene in 2008 with Croft Pink being the first.

Croft Port from the river, Douro Valley, Portugal

For port, the first push for change is about unveiling the alternatives. In the UK at least, we’re always caught up on vintage, ruby and tawny ports, forgetting that there are also white and pink ports as well as a number of esoteric styles that are made by only a handful of producers. For example, Taylor’s Chip Dry, which has been around for a while, was originally produced as an alternative to Fino sherry.

Of course, it’s not just about creating new product lines – there needs to be a certain level of quality guarantee too. It took a while for Croft Pink to be accepted as a port because the category for pink ports did not exist. And indeed the IVDP does a lot to ensure that quality of port we see is maintained at a certain standard – more on that later.

The second push for change is about how port is drunk. It would probably be unthinkable to put a vintage port into a cocktail but dry white, ruby and tawny are all fair game. (I collected some port-based cocktail recipes which you can read on Yahoo) Sometimes, it’s even the winemakers themselves leading the charge like at Quinta do Portal.

Port producers have certainly recognised the need for evolution but I hope the quality of the Douro’s ports and wines don’t suffer as a result of it.

Here are the stops on my Douro trip:

Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP)
Graham’s
Quinta de la Rosa
Quinta de Sao Jose
Quinta do Portal
Quinta do Seixo
Quinta do Tedo
Ramos Pinto
Taylor’s

Domaine Ogereau, Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay

This is a post in the Spotlight on: the Loire Valley series

Domaine Ogereau’s production is absolutely tiny.

At just 20 hectares, 10 of which are devoted to Coteaux du Layon, they are heavily influenced by the saleability of sweet wines. Perhaps that’s why, with the addition of their son Emmanuel as the new winemaker, the owners Vincent and Catherine Ogereau are exploring the terroirs of Coteaux du Layon for dry Chenin Blanc.

Emmanuel Ogereau, Domaine Ogereau, Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay

Emmanuel Ogereau becomes the fifth generation of the family to be a winemaker at the property. Having studied wine business in Dijon, trained in Burgundy and made wine in Oregon and Central Otago, he will certainly be giving the family’s wines a facelift.

We tasted their current, mostly sweet, selection starting with the dry Domaine Ogereau Anjou en Chenin 2012 – a lemony fresh wine that was vibrant on the palate but not that exciting.

The Clos le Grand Beaupréan Savennières 2011 felt a little austere with its crisp apple note, steely minerality and tannic finish. With a little age, the Clos le Grand Beaupréan Savennières 2007 had a lightly oxidised nose but revealed a distinctive wine that was very complex with notes of apple and bees wax.

From then on it was the sweet wines.

The Coteau du Layon Saint Lambert 2013 was an entry level sweet wine with floral, white fruit and peach notes.

Domaine Ogereau own a cherished parcel of land that they call “bonnes blanches” which is essentially schist soil that looks like chalk. From that parcel, they produce a few different wines.

The Harmonie des Bonnes Blanches Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert 2011 was rich with apricot and floral notes as well as intense Botrytis nose and a long finish.

The Clos des Bonnes Blanches Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert 2011 had a slightly truffled nose followed by dried apricots, honey and lemon peel. Best described as a rich nectar, it had an extremely long, lip-sticking finish. With a little age, the Clos des Bonnes Blanches Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert 2007 had an even more pronounced truffled nose with stunning intensity and concentration of honey and caramel, lifted by a floral note. It was really reminiscent of a great Sauternes.

The last wine was the Cuvée Nectar Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert 1990. Again, the wine was intense and concentrated with notes of floral honey but it also had a tannic, bitter tinge. Developing into a syrup, it somehow felt passed it. A shame, because it could, and should, have been a great wine.

www.domaineogereau.com

Eric Morgat, Clos Ferrard, Savennières

This is a post in the Spotlight on: the Loire Valley series

Eric Morgat is an interesting winemaker to meet, not least because his name is his wine brand rather than that of an estate.

Eric Morgat, Anjou

Clearly passionate about winemaking, Morgat has worked from the ground up acquiring parcels of land to make his wine. His first vintage was in 1995, when he was just 25.

His “garden”, often previously uncultivated land, as this is cheaper than the alternative, are based in different parts of the Anjou; some are right next to the Loire river while others are further inland. His is the Black Anjou – the volcanic schist soil that produces grapes with higher alcohol and a thicker grape skin, giving a tannic structure not unlike that of red wines.

Right now, he has no winery of his own either but is in the process of building one.

Wine glass, Eric Morgat, Anjou

Despite not owning an estate in the conventional sense, he’s gained a cult following of sorts and his wines are well regarded. He used to be known for making dry wines with Botrytised grapes but is now concentrating more on preserving the purity of fruit.

We started the tasting at a cliff’s edge with his vines by one side and the Loire on the other. It was the Eric Morgat Savennières L’Enclos Fidès 2012 – a wine that’s been barrel fermented for a year before blending and ageing for a further year in stainless steel tanks. Opening with an intense citric nose, the wine had great minerality and acidity; finishing with a savoury note, it also had enough body to match to meats.

Moving into his cellar, we tasted more wines from the L’Enclos and the Litus parcels.

The Eric Morgat Anjou Blanc Litus 2012 was a flavoursome wine to start with, offering notes of citrus, pear and white fruits followed by a savoury finish. The slightly older Eric Morgat Anjou Blanc Litus 2011 was a little closed at first, and should be decanted, but opened with greater proportions of white fruit and minerality than the previous vintage.

The Eric Morgat Savennières L’Enclos 2011 had a noticeably richer body, more minerality and a slight hint of honey on the nose followed by crisp apples. The Eric Morgat Savennières L’Enclos 2010, in the early stages of development, had become very provocative with a sort of bruised apple note – it would certainly be interesting to see a bit more age on this wine. And finally the Eric Morgat Savennières L’Enclos 2009 made a beautiful final wine – pronounced fruity nose of pears backed by light oak and a savoury finish.

 

www.ericmorgat.com

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